June 30, 2006 - counterpunch.com
barren Judean Mountain range, east from Jerusalem, lies the Jordan
Valley, an area which receives almost no media coverage, despite being
home to 52,000 Palestinians and accounting for 30% of West Bank
I am taken there by Stop the Wall campaign, in a battered mini bus with
Egyptian music blaring out of the radio and the blazing heat burning our
skin through the window. As we drop down from the mountains vast
plantations of palm trees, citrus fruits and grape vines stretch as far
as the eye can see. Every plantation is also surrounded by electrical
fencing, barbed wire and "Danger" signs, because these oases of
intensive production have been created on stolen land, grown by
over-exploitation of water, farmed and owned by illegal settlers.
The lack of international attention means the land grab in the Valley
goes unnoticed, for despite being on the Jordanian side of Palestine,
Israel has invested large sums of money making this area a permanent
part of their state, and a permanent obstacle to the emergence of
One million palm trees have been planted here and one million more are
planned in the next five years, while the number of Settlers will double
in the next two. Israel has poured $58million into making their presence
in the Valley viable since 2004, and at that price it is unlikely to
have any intention of giving it up any time soon. Israeli Prime Minister
Olmert admitted as much in February when he spoke in a TV interview of
annexing the Jordan Valley to Israel, cutting any proposed
Palestinian state into further enclaves, and preventing it from having
direct contacts with its neighbours.
This scale of production has had enormous implications on water supply.
All surrounding areas traditionally depend on the Jordan river for
water, but the river's resources have been drained by two enormous
reservoirs which pull water from across the Valley. As we drive past we
that one reservoir was donated by the Women's Zionist Organisation of
America, an organisation which faces no threat of sanctions despite
funding projects which clearly violate international law. For the
Palestinians meanwhile, stealing this water carries a hefty fine.
We continue down the valley, along the Ghandi Road, appropriately named
not after the Indian resistance leader but the ironic nickname of
Rehavam Zeevi, Sharon's former far-right Tourism Minister who openly
supported the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, famously comparing
"lice" and "cancer". Pepsi advertisements encourage drivers to "live
life to the max" � something the Settlers appear to have taken to heart.
The mostly state-owned Carmel-Agrexco packing houses prepare fruit,
herbs, flowers, palm oil and wine for export, much bound for Europe,
where it will be displayed on supermarket shelves as 'Made in Israel',
despite the fact that it is produced in militarily occupied Palestine.
In fact business is booming for Agrexco, which handles 60-70% of all
goods produced in the illegal Settlements, and who have increased their
exports by 72% in the last three years. The food which isn't exported is
dumped on Palestinian markets, forcing out of business local producers
unable to compete with subsidised goods being produced at their expense.
The finite land and waters resources in the Jordan Valley mean that
Palestinians have lost all that Israel has gained, and are now packed
into villages surrounded by closed military zones, bereft of land and
water. Even their jobs as wage labourers on their occupier's plantations
are under threat. Settlers are beginning to import labourers from the
Far East to work the Settlements, though it makes little sense
economically. As one Palestinian farmer tells us "They will pay more
just to get rid
We meet Hasan Jermy, the Mayor of one such Palestinian village, Zubadat.
Hassan's profession is teaching, and he tells us how this marks him out
for particular humiliation when trying to cross the checkpoints along
the Ghandi Road. He tells us how Palestinians used to export their
produce to Jordan and Israel, but this is now unthinkable, partly
because of lack of land and water and partly because it can take several
days for Palestinian goods to cross the checkpoints of the Valley,
costing money and leaving produce unusable.
Many Palestinians in the area now scrape together their basic needs from
the few sheep they own or tiny and infertile plots of land. Even the
sheep are in danger � if they wander into the closed military zone
they're likely to end up in what our guide calls "an animal prison",
from which the farmer must pay five Jordanian Dinars to recover their
Few have lost as much as Faisal's family, once local landowners, who now
have a small house in an Oasis, from which they can see but not access
the land they used to own. Faisal is growing aubergines in his field,
but they are dry and shrivelled compared to the well watered grapes that
grow on the plantations which have been stolen from him. "The water
these plants constantly get comes through my land" he tells us "yet I
have no access to it."
Then there is the housing shortage. The Oslo Agreement demarcated only
0.5% of the Valley as Palestinian residential area. Palestinians are
never granted permits to build new homes, so all new Palestinian homes
are considered illegal by the Israeli Army and can be demolished at any
time. Those who refuse to be forced out can be seen living in shacks,
under plastic and corrugated tin roofs, or even in the back of lorries.
There are few words which can be used to describe 52,000 people living
without livelihood, surrounded by plantations rich with food for export
to the West. Or to compare the lifestyle of the illegal Settlers,
enjoying a free education, unlimited water, suburban gardens and even
discounted mobile phone deals, while Palestinians are crammed into
villages, with no rights or services, fetching water from dirty ponds
and organising their own education in tents in the desert. One word
increasingly used to describe this situation across Palestine, and
indeed in Israel itself, is Apartheid.
As we head back, our Mini Bus is held at a checkpoint as we're
questioned about our purpose here. Shiny saloon cars with Israeli
licence plates speed through at the nod of a soldiers' head.
Hasan Jermy has a simple message "for Bush, for Blair, for Putin and for
Kofi Annan: Don't close all the windows. The Palestinians want the
chance to work our own land and to live our lives in peace." But the
action of Israel and the international community leave young people with
few options � starvation, crime or violence.
As the West seems increasingly intent on shutting out the last rays of
light that give the Palestinian people hope, groups like Stop the Wall
go on mobilising peaceful resistance to the injustices they face. They
have little choice. For the people of the Jordan Valley their struggle
is not only for equality and justice, but a struggle to prevent the
eradication of their very identity and existence.
*Nick Dearden works for the London-based War on
Want. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.